How to Format Italics in APA

In the world of academic writing, sticking to the detailed formatting rules of APA style is extremely important. Among the many small details to pay attention to, knowing when to use italics is particularly important. Whether it’s to highlight important words or to format different parts of your paper correctly, knowing how and when to use italics is essential for creating well-done APA papers and citations.


  • Introducing Important Concepts: When you’re introducing important terms or phrases for the first time in your paper, especially if you’re giving them a definition, you can use italics to emphasize their importance. For example, Emotional intelligence refers to ‘the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions, as well as to recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others’ (Goleman, 1995, p. 34).
  • Formatting Titles: Titles of individual works such as books, reports, webpages, and similar stand-alone pieces are typically italicized. For example, Navigating the Digital Age: A Comprehensive Guide to Online Safety Practices.
  • Formatting Periodical Titles: When citing periodicals along with their volume numbers, it is customary to italicize them. It’s worth mentioning that the comma between them should not be italicized. For example, The Journal of Environmental Science, 25(3), 112-128.
  • Formatting Statistical Symbols and Variables: English letters used as statistical symbols or algebraic variables are typically italicized. Examples include X, Y, Z, and θ.
  • Formatting Scale Anchors: When discussing scale anchors, it is necessary to italicize them. For instance, On the satisfaction scale, 1 (very dissatisfied) to 5 (very satisfied) represents the range of responses.
  • Using Foreign Language Terms: When including words, phrases, or abbreviations from another language that might be unfamiliar to your readers, it’s helpful to italicize them to make them stand out. For instance, She greeted him with a warm bienvenue (welcome) to the party.

Use Italics Moderately: Reserve italics for specific instances outlined in the APA style guidelines, such as introducing key terms, formatting titles of stand-alone works, and highlighting statistical symbols. Overusing italics can clutter the text and diminish readability, so employ them moderately to emphasize important elements without overwhelming the reader.

Verify Foreign Terminology: Before italicizing words or phrases from another language, confirm whether they are unfamiliar to your readership. If a term appears in a standard dictionary for the language in which you are writing, italics may not be necessary. However, for terms not commonly known by your audience, italicization helps ensure clarity and comprehension.

Mind Punctuation Rules: Pay attention to punctuation when using italics in APA style. Punctuation marks following italicized words, such as commas or periods, should remain unitalicized. Additionally, be mindful of maintaining consistency in formatting throughout your paper, ensuring that italics are applied uniformly according to APA guidelines.


  • Formatting Book Series Titles: It’s not necessary to italicize titles of book series. For instance, the Chronicles of Narnia.
  • Punctuation Marks Following Italics: The punctuation mark following an italicized word or phrase, or between elements of a reference list entry, should not be italicized. For instance, The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25(3), 345-357.
  • Foreign Words in Dictionaries: Words, phrases, and abbreviations from other languages that are found in a dictionary for the language you’re writing in do not need to be italicized. Examples include bon appétit, carte blanche, “vis-à-vis, and faux pas.


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Hannah Berry (Ph.D.)

Hannah Berry has lectured at several colleges and teaches at the WEA. Besides publishing extensively, she has taught citation skills and written multiple style guides.

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